Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Month: May 2016

What’s This?

In our garden, just before you get to the orchard, there’s a mahoosive patch of nettles. We started obliterating them last weekend, and found this:

What's this?

What isssit?

Buried under the many nettles was a large piece of corrugated metal. We’re hoping for some kind of a bunker filled with buried treasure, but we’re being realistic. We’ll settle for just an exciting bunker.

It’ll probably turn out to be Mr G’s method of killing weeds, but we’re keeping our hopes up.

Any thoughts?

Tales From The Septic Tank

We’ve never been responsible for a septic tank before. In case you’re not familiar with such a beast, it’s basically a big hole in the ground into which goes everything that goes through us. Plus the washing up water, laundry water, shower water, etc.

It’s a bit grim. Well, it’s not, because luckily our tank is healthy… but it is.

Normally, your waste will drain away into your septic tank, then the septic tank will do its thing (more on that shortly), then it drains away downhill into a soakaway.

But here at The Dingle, things are slightly different. Of course :)

The house itself is in a dip at the bottom of the rise of the garden, about 12 feet off the road. So there’s no downhill for our waste to soakaway to. It’s highly illegal (thankfully) to drain effluent into public water courses or drains. So what’s going on here?

Good question.

Our tank system is pretty old, and a bit awkward: there’s a mechanical pump operated by a switch in the Rayburn Room, which means we have to remember to pump the tank every few days. We’re obviously going to replace this with an automatic system in the next year or so, but for now it’ll do fine.

Because we’re at the bottom of a hill, the grey water has to go uphill. So there’s an awkward arrangement of pipes at the front corner of the house that, frankly, is a bit unsightly. See:

Old-style septic tank

The poo hatch!

The metal hatch is the poo inspection lid (lovely). The brick contraption houses the mechanical pump. The black pipe that disappears into the bank takes the grey water away to…

…who knows where? At this point, we’re not entirely sure where the soakaway is, but we have our suspicions. The good news is, there’s no horrifying, B-movie-style bubbling and no smells, so wherever it is, it’s healthy.

The bad news is, we really will need to replace the system – or at least upgrade it – at some point. Preferably sooner than later. We heard a rumour we may be able to claim it on the buildings insurance, so fingers crossed.

The tank itself is pretty cool though. We had a chap out to empty it and take a look, and according to him it’s in good condition and healthy. We have nothing immediate to worry about, which is somewhat of a relief.

Since then, I’ve been learning about septic tanks. Many, many homes in rural areas rely on septic tanks because it’s just not possible to hitch us up to the public sewage system.

Newer tanks are bottle-shaped and made of plastic, buried underground; older ones (which we have) are usually large rectangular boxes of brick, stone, or concrete, buried underground. It’s a simple waste water treatment works.

Waste material – charmingly known as “sludge” settles in the bottom of the tank for natural bacteria to digest. It builds up, so we have to have it emptied every year or so to make sure it continues to work properly and to prevent the soakaway becoming choked.

Then the grey water drains off into a soakaway, usually a pit filled with gravel. They tend to be quite big, so are a massive pain in the backside to replace or work on. Also, it’s very expensive.

We need to find where the soakaway is to check the discharge is light grey and doesn’t include any solids.
I’ve discovered that expensive, posh toilet roll is a no-no — it doesn’t break down easily, so can block the tank.

Bleach in anything but tiny quantities is also a no-no, as is antibacterial cleaning stuff, because it kills the friendly bacteria in the tank.

And chucking cooking oil down the sink is a bad thing, because that can solidify and cause blockages.

We need to keep all this in mind when we build the new kitchen extension… but for now, everything seems to be working beautifully.

Happy days!

And lo! There was an egg

There has been great excitement at The Dingle this week, for on Thursday lunchtime, Granny Featherwax gave us our (and her) first ever egg. It’s a tiny wee egg, about half the size of a “standard” supermarket egg – but it has a good, strong shell. We’re going to eat it later.

A small egg lies nestled in the straw in a nesting box

Granny Featherwax’s first egg!

The girls are doing splendidly. They love grapes and bananas, and I truly believe there are few things in life as funny as watching a chicken steal your banana skin and legging it up the garden, with two other chickens in hot pursuit.

We’re just learning to pick them up at the moment. They don’t like it, but they do like the treats they get. Apparently they’ll get used to this, which is good because we need to be able to pick them up so we can inspect them and make sure they’re healthy.

If you’ve ever considered getting chickens, but weren’t sure – do it. They’re easy to look after and they’re endlessly delightful. And very fine-looking animals to have pottering around in your garden.

Three chickens in the sunshine and the coop in the background

Enjoying the sunshine

Electrickery

There are a limited number of things I know about the chap who lived here before us.  He was well thought of by the village. People liked him, and enjoyed seeing him thrash his motability scooter at unprecedented speeds down the high street. As a younger man he’d run the local scout group, and there’s quite a few middle-aged chaps I’ve met in the pub who knew him when they were a child. These facts have been gleaned in the local pub. There’s only really one thing I know about him that comes from the house itself.

I know he had no fear of electricity.

I know this from the junction boxes, from the randomly placed pullswitches, from the wrist-thick bundle of cables that encircle the house at gutter level.

So, in an attempt to untangle the facts, we spent some time a few days ago finding out which MCB does what at the main consumer unit (which is halfway up the stairs)

So, here’s a rundown of what we found:

  • Main switch – nothing to report
  • RCD, 63 Amps. Somewhat unbelievably, this immensely complicated tangle is protected by a 30mA RCD.  I find this both reassuring, and amazing.
  • MCB1, Type B32.  Label: Cooker. Connected to.. the cooker. we’re off to a good start.
  • MCB2, Type B20. Label: Ring Circuit.  Here is where I’d expect all the wall sockets. Turns out it’s only the sockets in the attic, and one socket on the gable end bedroom.
  • MCB3, Type B20. Label: Stairlift. We don’t have a stairlift, so I was expecting this not to be connected to anything.  However, it runs the washing machine, the kitchen sockets and lights, one hall socket, the stone extension bedroom sockets and the immersion heater.
  • MCB4, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This one’s not connected to anything.
  • MCB5, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This supplies half of the sockets in the living room.
  • MCB6, Type B16. Label: Sockets. Nothing.  Nada.
  • Another RCD, 63Amps.
  • MCB7, Type B16. Label: Outbuilding. This supplies a bunch of external lights and the shed, which has it’s own consumer unit and more wiring than we can wrap our heads around.
  • MCB8, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This supplies a random smattering of sockets throughout the house, plus the lights in the stone extension ground floor.
  • MCB9, Type B20. Label: Sockets.  This powers the electric toothbrush.
  • MCB10, Type B32. Label: Water Heater. Not connected to a thing.
  • MCB11, Type B6. Label: Lighting. This supplied lighting to 70% of the house
  • MCB12, Type B6. Label: Lighting.  Lighting for one bedroom only.

Photo 25-04-2016, 19 39 29

So there you have it. I’m no expert, but should lighting and sockets be separate? Isn’t 20A a bit much for a toothbrush?

Looking at the cableruns, it looks like any time they wanted a new socket, light, or switch they simply looked for the nearest piece of wire, whether it be above or below, for lighting, sockets, ring or spur – and cut into it to splice a new bit in.

It’s not really salvageable.  The house will need a complete rewire. But it’s awesome fun!

We’d have loved to have met the previous owner. He seems like he was a real character – everyone has a good word to say about him. And he’s created this crazy, wonderful, quirky house – which looks insane, but everything works. I suspect he was something of an eccentric genius and I wish I’d known him.

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